Issue 21: Against the Internet's Photos of Meh
And in praise of good work, plus The Moth's storytelling.
👋 Happy Tuesday. Here’s some of what I’m up to in the last week:
Writing smally about photography; and
Reading about verbal storytelling.
1. Fine art photography in a flood of pics
This morning, I watched a college kid use about six straight minutes to take a picture of a bagel sandwich and iced coffee. She’d aim, stare, tap, pinch, repeat. I’m not sure if she ever got what she wanted, but I was exhausted. If you’ve been in a coffee shop or cafe since 2010, you know the new mealtime prayer includes bowing smartphones over plates before the first bite. It’s not just a cafe thing. Now that cameras are as ubiquitous as hats, we take pictures of virtually everything for every sort of reason. Of course, aside from proving that practice certainly does not make perfect, the .heic revolution is likely innocuous. But you could fairly assume that the influx of photos in our world would diminish the whole lot.
Thankfully, the opposite seems to be true. Our ocular baths of meh readily part for good work. Which is what you’ll find in the photography of JoAnn Verburg.
My friend Emil introduced me to JoAnn’s work a few months ago, and I’ve since spent time interacting with both her work and her. What I find attractive is how she captures her subjects with unsuspecting complexity, yet like most good art, hers appears effortless.
In the new Common Good, we were able to license one of her pieces. Here’s how I describe it there:
In a very online world where haphazard and derivative pictures and screenshots disperse on like ants from a stepped-on ant bed, this intensely calm — respectful, almost — triptych of photos by American artist JoAnn Verburg evokes quiet. Quiet that sets a contemplative mood. The composition’s reverence for the sun and impressionistic, nearly playful use of focus swells with complexity. It recalls old world things: olive branches, fertile lands, the newness of morning, three beings distinct yet inextricably one. An old world, it reminds us, that’s still here.
Go on: Look around JoAnn Verburg’s collections, specifically her work on olive trees, and read about her recent shows.
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2. Here’s (some of) what I’ve been reading
How to Tell a Story: The Essential Guide to Memorable Storytelling from the Moth. You know The Moth? It’s a nonprofit that coaches and facilitates storytelling. You may have been to one of their events. I haven’t, but I’ve heard they’re fun. Anyway, this book is sort of the distillation of The Moth method(s). And so far, it’s helpful enough.
Honey for a Child's Heart: The Imaginative Use of Books in Family Life. Okay, so I’m not reading this one (yet), but Hannah is. And if Hannah is reading something, that means everyone in earshot is getting regular highlights. Like here’s one part she texted me a few days ago:
(See, pictures for all kinds of reasons.)